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September 9, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

Hotly Contested Issues in an Ever Hotter Climate: The Importance of Politics in Solving the Climate Change Dilemma

Gaia Mattiace

The veracity of anthropogenic climate change is no longer a question up for debate. According to independent analyses conducted by both NASA and NOAA, 2015 had the highest temperatures since climatic record keeping began in 1880.[1] Furthermore 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the recent rising temperatures, extreme weather, melting ice, rising seas, and other consequences of global warming are due to human activity.[2]  Scientific research on the causes and ramifications of climate change has successfully been conducted and no longer poses a major challenge. Furthermore scientific understanding of this issue, as well as the urgent need for action, has spread all over the globe. According to a study conducted by the PEW Research Center in April 2016, a majority of people, polled from over 40 countries, agrees that climate change is a serious problem that must be addressed.[3]

However, even though it is widely acknowledged as an issue of enormous consequence for mankind, global climate change continues to present itself as a hotly contested political issue.  This past winter 2015 policymakers from around the globe gathered in Paris at COP21 in hopes to make strides as an international community to mitigate climate change. The 180 signatories of the Paris Agreement confirmed their commitment to keeping temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels, to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and to review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every 5 years.[4]

Although the achievements of COP21 represent an enormous step forward in climate change policymaking, the political challenges of global climate change are far from over. Firstly, before the agreement can even go into effect it must be adopted by 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions; currently 27 countries have ratified it, comprising 39 percent of the global emissions.[5] Secondly, the emission targets that countries pledged to are non-binding; therefore policymakers must still overcome hurdles and opposition at home to be able to implement the necessary measures to achieve these goals.[6] In the U.S., Obama faces stark opposition, to his efforts to put Americans on a track to mitigating climate change, by Republican opposition in Congress.  Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee called the Obama administration’s efforts at COP21 “futile and costly.”[7] Inhofe is one of the several climate deniers sitting in the Senate, famous for having thrown a snowball on the senate floor in an effort to convince his fellow members of congress that climate change is a hoax.[8]
Nevertheless the Obama administration has persisted in its attempts to mitigate anthropogenic climate change, releasing the Clean Power Plan in August 2015, the “first-ever national [set of] standards to address carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants.”[9] Unfortunately, once again, these efforts have faced political opposition and are currently under a stay from the Supreme Court pending legal challenges.

This is not to say that the political dimension of global climate challenges has only posed hurdles. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Congress, the EPA and several states have made headway in creating policies that will help reduce our country’s footprint and hopefully reduce global warming. Furthermore the gains made at COP21 symbolize a significant change in the priorities of nations around the world to protect the future of our planet’s health. However it does prove that whether or not we will be able to reduce global warming in the future largely depends on our gains in national and international politics. For this very reason we must continue to make ourselves heard as global citizens and advocate for immediate action to resolve the threat posed by climate change.

Gaia Mattiace is an undergraduate in the College, class of 2018, and the president of Georgetown Renewable Energy and Environmental Network.

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